We wine geeks splurge on rare, interesting, and expensive bottles. But when to open them? When will the window of drinkability close? Should we keep the experience to ourselves or share (and show off) to friends? Does one even “own”, let alone remember, a wine after drinking it?
THE END’S BEGINNING
In four years my wife and I had amassed eighteen cases of undrunk wine.
But then there were my babies: pricey wines that I had hand-picked for aging from my three years of work in a wine boutique. I had even created a drinkability spreadsheet that stretched to 2020.
I dreamed of concocting the perfect pairing of food, evening, and company for each of my precious bottles.
Then, last summer, my wife and I had no choice. We were leaving our jobs. We couldn’t risk shipping the wines.
We had five months, or 150 days to drink 225 bottles. So at an average of 1.5 bottles per night, we tackled our wine mountain.
SWIMMING THE FERMENTED SEA
My blueberry wine tasted like rubbing alcohol and rotten cranberries. My two year old kit wine, barbarescowelches remained fruity, tart, drinkable, if a bit leafy. My recent attempt at Vidal Blanc Brut had a vibrant bottle-fermented fizz, if limp notes of lemonade and grass. But my Vignoles tasted intensely ripe, tropical, and nutty, even if it had accidentally become a bubbly.
Many wines at or under $10 had died. Winery visits had also burdened us with too many icewines, ports, and other things dessert. Lesson: skip ice cream and drink your dessert wine now, before those half bottles multiply like tribbles.
Luckily, we were both knee deep in the Advanced Level 3 of the Wine & Spirits Education Trust course (read about that nightmare here). Finally, we could practice our blind tasting skills on proper stuff. This took the sting out of opening, in one night, $150 worth of wine: Château du Tertre, Margaux, 2004, Château Camensac, Bordeaux, 2005, and Ridge’s Santa Cruz Cab 2005. We could identify who was who quiet easily. However, these cabs all tasted very fruit forward, rich, and modern. Fantastic but not complex or interesting yet. Maybe it was too soon.
Then there was the Château Smith-Haut-Lafite, Pessac-Leognan, Grand Vin de Bordeaux 2004. This wine challenged the modernists above. It looked hazy, smelled and tasted of leather, ceder forest, tobacco, musk, and mushroom, all wrapped around a black fruit pie. It managed to feel subtle and engrossing all at once.
From Lake Ontario, the Peninsula Ridge Meritage 2007 had held its black fruit and tobacco spice well, with tannins and acid mellowing finally into something very akin to Bordeaux. Meanwhile, the Wayne Gretzky Cabernet Merlot blend from the same year had fallen apart.
All our dry riesling from the Finger Lakes (Sheldrake Point) and Germany had evolved amazingly.
2007′s Woodcutter’s Shiraz from Australia’s Torbreck tasted like chunky, cherried port, while Edward Sellers’ 2005 Syrah was all spice, toast, fat fruit.
The Italians held a strong front. Healthy vintages in Barbaresco like 2005′s Produttori flaunted ripe, floral, all-spiced wine. While Chianti Riserva from 2006 from Selvapiana had kept its tannic edge, earth, and tart cherry in place. Rougher years like 2002′s Brunello di Montalcino from Solaria had given up the ghost after a decade.
Hardest of all, was twisting a corkscrew into a magnum bottle of Patrick Piuze’s Premier Cru Mont de Milieu Chablis 2008. My boss had gifted it to me last Christmas. He told me to hide it away for five years. Now I was leaving him, my customers, and everything I had built there.
Was it too soon? Was this all a mistake? Maybe I should stay and nurse this Chablis to maturity. Going on our seven month, thirteen country EU Austerity Drinking Tour sounded stupid.
Yet in the glass, its pale, lemon sunlight told me otherwise. It tasted brilliant. Frenetic lime and grapefruit twisted around a mild honey and ripe pear core, lightly dusted with powdery chalk. It gripped our palates for hours. Outstanding.
And then it ended.
We never owned any of those wines. They owned us. A quarter of our living room (and more of our paycheck) had become possessed by bottles.
In a way, we had merely rented them, paid for a few minutes of experience. Now, a year on, memory strains to claim them. Time has dulled that rare clarity in each glass.
It was folly to hoard them. Like George Elliot’s Silas Marner: the gold coins below his floor boards drove him from society, mechanized him, made him feel superior yet separate.
Then they were stolen.
Thinking we own wine made us feel greater. We could tell friends we were aging fancy Bordeaux. We joined an elite club. But this materialism was blocking us from opening them. Like Silas Marner, he never spent his gold, just stared at it, feeling an empty, half joy.
What if we had waited? What if we had aged these wines for a decade, just to find them faded, or worse, underwhelming? Few wines could live up to all those years of anticipation.
Possessing wine only possesses a false happiness. That dusty bottle is only a subterfuge for enjoyment. Open it. Share its fleeting experience. This life, this body, that wine is all on loan anyway. Enjoy it when you can.
VOTE NOW and make this post Prom King/Queen of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #MWWC3
- MWWC #3 – Wine and Sarah McLachlan (foodandwinehedonist.com)
- Possession: It’s Mine!!! #MWWC3 (red-wine-diva.com)
- Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #2 . . . VOTE! (armchairsommelier.wordpress.com)
- I’m not a hoarder . . . I’m a collector! (#MWWC3) (armchairsommelier.wordpress.com)